- Wed, October 10 2007
- Filed under: Writing
Ernest Hemingway said in the Paris Review once, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector.” I love Ernest Hemingway. His writing is so clean and authentic, it gleams.
We should all strive to have this essential gift so we can be good communicators. It’s oh-so-easy to fall into jargon, foundationspeak and meaningless blather. In fact, a professional I shall not name said a write-up I just gave him was “MBA B.S.” because it lacked the usual zest. I guess he has one of those detectors. It seems to have a very sensitive instrument panel.
I’ve got BS on the mind as I read a most hilarious book on marketing and corporate culture—Martin Lukes: Who Moved My Blackberry? of Financial Times fame. If you’re not familiar with this gem, it lampoons my profession in fine style. The fictional Martin works for a company that spends a fortune on rebranding from A&B Global to the absurdly umlaut-adorned a-b glÃ¶bÃ¢l and hires firms like !Eureka!Wow! which is a “one-stop talent shop to leverage solutions that excite clients.” Martin is so full of BS and yet so close to the mark in his satirical BS, marketing “blue sky, out of box” thinking that I burst out laughing - and blush for my whole profession.
My point is, I fall into BS - albeit generally by accident, not intention - and so do most marketers. So do many fundraisers. The trick is to have a built-in detector, or to know someone with one, that can keep you honest, hype-free and therefore more compelling as a communicator. Someone who notices the jargon and calls foul at cliches. You ESPECIALLY need this person if you have to write a lot of grant proposals to foundations AND appeals to donors. The foundation world will create some bad habits - you’ll fall into words that work for foundations but flop with donors.
Here are some words that should set off your detector: synergy, leverage, empowerment, participatory, unrestricted. When I worked at CARE and got information from the program department, I regularly had to pencil through “lactating women” in favor of “nursing mothers.”
Here is a helpful detector to keep jargon away: Nonprofit jargon finder
Do you know others? Please share them.